Tag Archives: desktop bridge apps

Conversion options for bringing your existing desktop app to the Universal Windows Platform using the Desktop Bridge

With this summer’s release of the Windows 10 Anniversary update and the recent announcement of the Store supporting apps built with the Desktop Bridge technology, we are receiving much interest from many customers wanting to participate. Many developers are seeing the value of the new Windows 10 app packaging technology that enables your app to cleanly install, uninstall and update, as well as get full access to UWP APIs including Live Tiles, Cortana, notifications and more.

However, the conversion process can be intimidating if you are not familiar with your application’s footprint on the system and the technology it uses. This article is intended to educate you on the options for converting your app’s installation into a Windows app package.


Before we begin to list the options and their various pros and cons, it helps to understand a little about what makes up a Windows app package and how an existing application runs under the Desktop Bridge environment. In the context of the Desktop Bridge, the key parts of an app package, also known as a “.appx” file, has the following:

  • Application files – these are the files your app requires to execute and are usually placed in the root of the package. Typically these are the same files that are installed in the application’s folder under “C:Program Files” or “C:Program Files (x86).” In the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), package is placed in an app specific directory under “C:Program FilesWindowsApps” and are secured to prevent tampering.
  • AppManifest.xml – this file is used by the Windows Store to validate the package contents and identity of the publisher, and it is used by the deployment pipeline to install the application. The purpose of the manifest is to make everything about the installation of a package declarative and thus handled by the system. A key pillar is that no user code is executed at deployment time.
  • Reg.dat – If the application writes to the registry at install time, or the app expects certain registry keys to be set when it starts, this information must be stored in a local application hive. At runtime, this hive is mounted and merged with the system registry so the application sees a merged view. The isolation provided by this model allows for no-impact install and uninstall guarantees provided by the UWP packaging model for apps in the Windows Store.
  • Virtual File System, VFS (optional) – If the application places files in other locations outside its typical product folder, i.e, c:windowssystem32, these files should be placed under the VFS folder. At runtime, the VFS is mounted and merged with the actual file system on disk so the application is presented with a merged view. The isolation provided by this model allows for no-impact install and uninstall guarantees provided by the UWP packaging model for apps in the Windows Store.

After you understand the essential parts that are required for a UWP package, the next step that will influence the conversion is understanding how the application impacts the system – what files are installed where, and what registry entries does the application installer write. Depending on how much a developer knows about their application installer, they can make the decision on the best approach.

Don’t know what your setup package does?

Desktop App Converter

The Desktop App Converter (DAC) is the first option most developers are exposed to, as it requires very little knowledge of the application’s installer. The DAC leverages an isolated environment to install the application. While the install is happening, the isolated environment captures all file system and registry access within that environment and saves the deltas to disk.

The DAC then processes the deltas, filtering out changes made by the OS itself (the isolated environment is similar to a light weight VM running the OS and so there are services, filesystem and registry access happening while the installer is running), and locates your application via shortcuts registered in that environment by the installer. The DAC saves the installer-specific changes, creates the manifest file and sample image assets, and builds the UWP package if specified.

The benefits of this approach are:

  • Straightforward if you know your installer’s silent or unattended setup flags.
  • The DAC can be used to create an initial package, and the output (the PackageFiles folder) can be manually updated with new binaries and rebuilt when there are updates to the application. There is no need to re-run the DAC unless there are significant changes to the installer.

The caveats are:

  • First-time acquisition and setup of the DAC and its base image can take some time.
  • Requires the developer to be familiar with their installer, at least enough to know if it supports a silent or unattended mode. Some installers are not very clear on how to do this and can require a lot of trial and error to figure this out, which is beyond the scope of this article.
  • If the installer hangs, it can be a challenge to get the installer log files for debugging.
  • The file and registry filtering takes a conservative approach to remove system activity because installers can have a broad impact to the system. This approach was taken to ensure the greatest level of compatibility. Developers should review the virtual file system and registry and remove entries that are not associated with their application.

The Desktop App Converter itself can be downloaded from the Windows Store. For more information, please check out the documentation on the Windows Dev Center.

XCopy Deployment?

Manual Packaging

If an application setup is very simple and does not require registry entries nor copying files to protected locations, then a manual packaging option is the most straightforward.  This solution is common for single executable tools or “xcopy” deployments. Typically, all that is required is to place the application files in a folder, and to create an AppManifest.xml with the proper fields updated to identify the publisher and the app executable. Step-by-step instructions for manual packaging can be found on the Windows Dev Center and a sample can be found on GitHub.

Need to support both MSI and Windows 10?

Install technology partners with .appx packaging support

We’ve been working with our partners that build setup technologies to add support for directly building Windows app packages (.appx file) with their tools. These tools will create the app manifest and produce the app package as part of their build process. The key benefit these solutions provide is the ability to maintain one installer code base that will produce an MSI installer typically used in older versions of Windows (e.g. Windows 7), as well as build a no-impact install package for Windows 10 (i.e., .appx file for Windows 10). More information can be found at:

Additionally, Embarcadero has announced support for the Desktop Bridge in RAD Studio, which lets you directly output a Windows app package through the build process.

In summary, the best option depends on how complex the application is and much a developer knows about their existing installation methodology. Whether you have an installer with unknown setup technology, a simple xcopy install, or an application that already has existing assets in a given installer technology, there are approaches to meet your needs.

For more information on the Desktop Bridge, please visit the Windows Dev Center.

Ready to submit your app to the Windows Store? Let us know!

Apps built using the Desktop Bridge now available in the Windows Store!

A few months ago, during Build 2016, we announced the Desktop Bridge, enabling developers to bring their existing desktop apps and games over to the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) by converting their app or game with the Desktop App Converter and then enhancing and extending it with UWP functionality. This then enables the path to gradually migrate the app or game to reach all Windows 10 devices over time, including phones, Xbox One and HoloLens.

Last month, along with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update SDK, we announced a process for you to start bringing these converted apps and games to the Windows Store for easier and safer distribution to customers.

First apps available in the Windows Store

Today we’re pleased to announce that new apps including Evernote, Arduino IDE, doubleTwist, PhotoScape, MAGIX Movie Edit Pro, Virtual Robotics Kit, Relab, SQL Pro, Voya Media, Predicted Desire and korAccount will become available in the Windows Store within the next few days for Windows 10 customers running the Anniversary Update (if you haven’t updated yet here’s how you can). As the apps become available in the Store, you will be able to find them in a full collection of apps built using the Desktop Bridge in the Windows Store.

These are the same apps that customers know and love, but are now available for download in the trusted Windows Store. For your customers, the Windows Store is the safest and most secure place for them to find and manage content across a range of Windows devices, including PCs, phones, Xbox One and HoloLens. For developers, the Desktop Bridge enables you to make use of the new functionality available to UWP apps right out of the gate, including access to a host of new APIs like Live Tiles, Cortana and Action Center that provide best-in-class support for thousands of scenarios across all of Windows. Evernote is already taking advantage of the new APIs to bring innovation to customers.

“We’re excited to bring our full-featured Evernote app to the Windows Store. The Desktop Bridge vastly simplifies our installer and uninstaller. It also opens up UWP APIs that we’ve taken advantage of, including the live tiles and notifications. And having the full-featured Evernote app in the Windows Store means future improvements will reach users faster.” —Seth Hitchings, VP Engineering, Evernote

Tooling updates for the Desktop Bridge

In addition, we’re happy to announce that today we have made the Desktop App Converter available for download directly from the Windows Store. This will enable updates of the Desktop App Converter with the latest features and bug-fixes to automatically be available to you as soon as we release them.

Finally, we are expanding the ways in which developers can create apps using the Desktop Bridge. Our partners, Flexera Software with InstallShield, FireGiant with WiX and Caphyon with Advanced Installer – three of the most popular Windows installer technologies  have included support for the Desktop Bridge, enabling developers to directly build an app package with their existing desktop app using the bridge as part of their existing developer workflow.

“Working in parallel with Microsoft, we are making it easy for our customers to transition their existing InstallShield MSI projects to build Universal Windows Platform and Windows Server App packages.  InstallShield is the only product that enables developers to test their apps for compatibility with the Desktop Bridge and WSAs – saving countless hours of time, effort and investigative work.” –  Maureen Polte, Vice President of Product Management at Flexera Software

“AppX packages and the Universal Windows Platform are the future of application deployment and development. It is our team’s core belief to support and educate our users, but also to provide them with the best packaging tool and services. We provide developers with the option to easily build a UWP app package for existing desktop applications from their existing MSI projects.” – Bogdan Mitrache, Advanced Installer

“The FireGiant AppX Extension works from your current WiX source code and integrates seamlessly into your WiX build process. There is no conversion process or managing of separate projects. Developers use the code they already have and the tools they’ve already learned to create both MSI and AppX packages.” – Rob Mensching, FireGiant CEO

We are thrilled with the community’s response to the Desktop Bridge, but there is always more to learn.

Other resources include:


Windows 10 Anniversary Update SDK Now Available! Windows Store Open for Submissions

Today I’m pleased to announce that following the Windows 10 Anniversary Update we have released the Windows 10 Anniversary Update SDK, build 14393 along with Visual Studio 2015 Update 3. The new SDK contains more than 2700 enhancements to the Universal Windows Platform allowing you to take advantage of our fastest growing OS ever and gives you access to the latest innovations in Windows 10 which are now available in the Anniversary Update. These updated APIs make it easier than ever for you to create more natural ways of interaction, like vision, writing, and speech into your apps and experiences. The Windows 10 Anniversary Update SDK delivers improvements to:

  • Windows Ink: A pen is a natural choice for apps that depend on analog input, such as sketching, animation and even signature capture. Now, with just two lines of code you can bring Windows Ink into your apps through the news InkCanvas and InkToolbar controls.
  • Cortana APIs: There is no easier way to interact with your computer than to talk to it, and Cortana brings you powerful features that you can use in your own apps. With the Windows 10 Anniversary SDK you can go further than simply adding voice controls to your apps, now with Cortana Actions you can drive increased user engagement by registering actions with Cortana that she will use to connect users to your apps at just the right time.
  • Windows Hello: Biometric authentication brings the magic of vision to apps and now with the Windows 10 Anniversary SDK, web developers can use Windows Hello in Edge to authenticate users with just a glance.
  • To find out more about these APIs and other enhancements in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update SDK visit Dev Center.

And we’re just getting started. With today’s launch we continue our goal to make Windows more open for all developers by providing you the tools you need to make Windows home no matter what platform you build for. Since //build my team and I have travelled the globe and met with thousands of developers and we have heard firsthand what is important to you. Among them, the promise of the Desktop Bridge to help you quickly and easily modernize your existing Win32/.NET apps, excitement to see real, native Bash running on Windows and Xamarin as a cross-platform development solution. We’re continuing to act on your feedback and offer more for cross-device developers, including these technologies:

  • Desktop Bridge (Project Centennial): The millions of developers using Win32 and .NET to build desktop apps can now get access to the benefits of the Universal Windows Platform and the Windows Store. Using the modern deployment technology of UWP, desktop apps can cleanly install, uninstall and update, as well as get full access to UWP APIs including Live Tiles, roaming storage, push notifications and more.
  • Bash Shell on Windows: We are pleased to deliver a top requested feature from users of popular command-line tools. You can now download the Bash shell from our partners at Canonical directly from the Windows Store. Now you can run native Bash and GNU/Linux command-line tools directly on the new Windows Subsystem for Linux.
  • Improved Tools and Bridges for iOS and Android Developers: Visual Studio now includes Xamarin tools built-in, ready to create apps for Windows and iOS and Android. In addition, our open source Windows Bridge for iOS enables iOS developers to bring Objective-C code into Visual Studio and compile it into a UWP app.

Windows Store Open for Submissions; Including Process for Submitting Desktop Bridge Apps

Starting today we are opening Dev Center and the Windows Store for submissions of apps built for PCs, phones and HoloLens, targeting the Windows 10 Anniversary Update SDK.

In addition, we will begin the process of accepting apps using the Desktop Bridge. While we build the pipeline into the Windows Store to publish these apps, our team will work directly with developers to get their converted apps and games into the Windows Store. Contact our team here if you are interested in submitting an app using the Desktop Bridge to the Windows Store.

Later this month, we’ll have a post on new Dev Center features and will share more detail on getting Xbox apps targeting the Windows 10 Anniversary Update SDK into the Windows Store.

Ready, Set, Build!

With the improvements in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update SDK there just isn’t a reason to wait. The Windows ecosystem is thriving – offering you an active and engaged audience of more than 350 million monthly active users. The Store is open for business and new innovations with Inking, Cortana and Edge will enable new experiences that simply aren’t possible on other platforms.

If you are not already building for Windows, download the Anniversary Update SDK today and get busy!

Thank you to our Windows developer community for your passion and creativity – we can’t wait to see what you come up with next! My team and I love to hear your feedback, and we use it to guide platform investments. Please keep the feedback coming using our Windows Developer Feedback UserVoice site.